Last spring, after metaphorically spending some years building a safe enough boat, I set off from the familiar country of a 21.5 year relationship to destinations unknown. I just knew this land was no longer something I wanted, nor was it particularly good for me.
A couple of years before, I’d begun examining all my relationships—family, friends, animals, plants, house—discerning what still worked and what did not. Every being gets to be who/what they are, I just don’t want to be around them much if I deem their actions/words demoralizing, unsafe, not inspiring or supporting, unkind, or just not ‘beautiful’ in all the ways that term manifests in my life: art, language, gentleness, food, joy, growth, sensuousness.
The thing about the unknown is that it’s unknown. Our culture is one that’s not fond of change. It craves novelty, but change not so much. The “leap of faith” that Kierkegaard wrote about is one that I experience each time I participate in any creative process, so it’s not unfamiliar to me. But just like lifting weights or certain asanas, it never really gets easier. A blank page is a blank page is a blank page. Trusting something ‘higher’ than myself—letting go—is what’s required. I must push off from my comfortable habitual shore.
Re-creating one’s life is a larger version of an artistic leap. It can be fearful, angst generating, thrilling—much like any other creative process—but your actual existence is on the line. Teenagers and burgeoning adults do this more often than age 27+. Most don’t choose to re-fashion themselves unless they believe they have to, and then it can feel so terrifying that they’ll fill that rushing hole of panic with whatever will stop it. Peccato, as it’ll just circle you back to a similar shoreline: same shit, different acreage.
This time, I choose to stay in the boat, to allow the space for my inherited injuries to heal. To be with instead of trying to fix the patterns, the pain, the sorrow, the grief of ancient stuff I’ve carried with me into every alliance. Those wounds didn’t comprise the bulk of of my relationships, by any means, but an infection in your toe affects the whole body.
Like anyone else, I don’t want to sit on this hot-seat of suffering. I don’t want to face what I once felt was inescapable. When we’re children, we’re vulnerable, dependent and needy. It’s the nature of childhood to be so; we must survive, and we do. Some of the ways we do is to place those impossible parts into exile. Later, we go to therapists/mystics/shamans to try to remember and recover these pieces in order to integrate them. There’s no way to become whole without embracing your banished pieces. And what I call suffering didn’t have to manifest only as physical horror. A sensitive soul is just that. A longtime friend calls me an “indicator species.”
Back to my symbolic boat. Simplistically, half of me gets weary of the mess, despair and sorrow. She wants to fall overboard into a new relationship, ‘fun,’ drink, drugs, even death. The other side says, “Give me those oars! I’ll find us dry land! TODAY! We’ll do more yoga, play guitar, write! I’ll save you!” That half is a douche-y chin-upper [see: chin up my ass], the ‘tell’ being her exclamation points!! These polarized, unrealistic sides are ‘valid’ and they both mean well, but neither is effective.
The first time I pushed off in a hand-built boat some 23-ish years ago, I held out for some months but jumped ship too early into a new romance, even with my mantra being: I want to heal more than I want to stop the pain. I was too young to realize I’d be jumping with an invisible backpack of ache that I’d just have to reopen and confront later.
Now my mantra is: Your job is to lie in the boat and look at the stars. Lie in the boat; look at the stars. Stay in the boat, dear one; look at the stars.
It’s paid off. Some stars are starting to shine for me—all of me—twinkling auspiciously of an untried regeneration. I suspect a powerful beach isn’t too far off. After all, my name means reborn.
~photo of Willem de Kooning’s studio. He once said something like: If I paint what I know, I’m bored. If I paint what you know, you’re bored. So I paint what I don’t know.